Cilantro and parsley are two common herbs used in many cuisines around the world. Though they look similar, they actually come from different plant families and offer distinct flavors, nutrients, and health benefits. This article will explore what cilantro and parsley do to the body when consumed.
Cilantro, also known as coriander or Chinese parsley, comes from the Coriandrum sativum plant. It’s an annual herb in the Apiaceae family that’s native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean. All parts of the cilantro plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and dried seeds are most commonly used in cooking.
Here’s an overview of what cilantro does to the body:
Cilantro contains various antioxidants including quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and apigenin. These compounds counter oxidative stress in the body and protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. This may lower the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.
Cilantro assists the body’s natural detoxification processes. Compounds like dodecenal, cilandrolic acid, and kaempferol appear to bind to toxic metals and facilitate their excretion. Cilantro may help remove heavy metals like mercury, aluminum, and lead from tissues.
Inflammation is at the root of most diseases. Cilantro contains bioactive compounds that provide anti-inflammatory effects in the body. The antioxidants quercetin and kaempferol inhibit inflammatory markers like COX-2.
Lowers Blood Sugar
Animal studies demonstrate that cilantro may help lower blood sugar levels and increase insulin secretion. The leaves are rich in bioflavonoids that improve glycemic control. This makes cilantro potentially useful for managing diabetes.
Supports Heart Health
Research indicates that cilantro may protect cardiovascular health in several ways. It improves cholesterol levels, lowers blood pressure, prevents platelet aggregation, and reduces oxidative damage from free radicals. The potassium in cilantro supports healthy blood pressure.
Cilantro provides an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Just one ounce (28 grams) contains:
- Vitamin C: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin A: 18% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 24% of the DV
- Folate: 14% of the DV
- Potassium: 8% of the DV
- Iron: 5% of the DV
The essential oils in cilantro, including linalool, are thought to aid digestion by increasing bile secretion when eaten.
Parsley comes from a different plant called Petroselinum crispum, which is a species in the Apiaceae family. Curly and flat leaf varieties exist, but curly parsley is more widely used. This vibrant herb is a staple in many types of cuisine.
Here’s an overview of what parsley does to the body:
Acts as a Diuretic
Parsley has a mild diuretic effect to increase urine production. Compounds like apiol and myristicin stimulate kidney function to flush out toxins and excess sodium. This may help treat issues like UTIs, kidney stones, and bloating.
Promotes Bone Health
The vitamin K in parsley helps improve bone density and strength. One-half cup (30 grams) provides over 500% of the DV for vitamin K, which supports osteocalcin production for bone building.
Parsley contains vitamin C, vitamin A, and antioxidants that improve immune defense against pathogens, viruses, and chronic illness. Vitamin C enhances the function of phagocytes and lymphocytes.
Supports Heart Health
Parsley contains cardio-protective nutrients that benefit heart health in many ways. Folate and vitamin B12 lower homocysteine, a risk factor for heart disease. Antioxidants prevent oxidative damage that can lead to atherosclerosis while potassium promotes vasodilation.
Traditionally used to settle upset stomachs, parsley may provide digestive relief in several ways. It stimulates bile and gastric juice production, which enhances digestion. The herb’s antimicrobial oils may also helpsuppress harmful gut bacteria.
May Inhibit Cancer
Emerging research indicates that certain compounds in parsley like apigenin and luteolin demonstrate anticancer activities. They block pathways that enable cancer cell migration, growth, reproduction and blood vessel formation. More human research is needed.
Parsley is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Just one-half cup (30 grams) provides:
- Vitamin K: 573% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 50% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 36% of the DV
- Folate: 30% of the DV
- Iron: 19% of the DV
- Potassium: 7% of the DV
Parsley’s nutrient density makes it useful for obtaining sufficient vitamins and minerals from your diet.
Cilantro vs. Parsley
Though cilantro and parsley look almost identical, they belong to different plant families and offer their own set of nutrients and plant compounds. Here’s a table comparing some key differences:
|Vitamin K||12% DV per oz||553% DV per 1/2 cup|
|Vitamin C||14% DV per oz||50% DV per 1/2 cup|
|Vitamin A||18% DV per oz||36% DV per 1/2 cup|
|Folate||14% DV per oz||30% DV per 1/2 cup|
|Beta-carotene||5% DV per oz||Trace amounts|
|Iron||5% DV per oz||19% DV per 1/2 cup|
|Calcium||2% DV per oz||5% DV per 1/2 cup|
Both herbs contain antioxidants like quercetin, apigenin, and luteolin. However, the essential oil linalool is unique to cilantro.
In terms of taste, cilantro has a more citrusy, bright flavor, while parsley has a milder grassy, earthy taste.
Possible Side Effects
For most people, consuming cilantro and parsley is safe with minimal risk of side effects. However, some individuals may experience:
- Allergic reactions in those sensitive to plants in the Apiaceae family
- Photodermatitis when applying parsley oil directly to the skin
- Skin irritation from handling large amounts
- Urinary tract or kidney irritation from overconsumption
- Blood thinning and changes in blood sugar in those on certain medications
Pregnant women may want to limit intake of cilantro/parsley oil due to insufficient safety research. It’s best to stick to normal culinary amounts of the fresh herbs.
Incorporating more cilantro and parsley into your diet can provide nutritional benefits thanks to their spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. Cilantro offers detoxification and blood sugar support, while parsley promotes bone health, digestion, and diuresis.
These herbs likely complement each other when used together. Try adding them to salads, salsa, pesto, soups, and green smoothies to take advantage of their unique flavors and health effects.